After entering Barcelona's youth academy in 1997, 22-year-old Gerard Pique became a treble winner with the club and a Spain international. The 20-year-old Sergio Busquets has followed in his footsteps.
Similar paths to the same destination you might think, but you would be wrong. Despite being graduates of Can Barça and now club and international team-mates, the pair took vastly different routes to get where they are today. FIFA.com takes a closer look at two of Spain's brightest young prospects currently on display at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009.
Prodigal son vs. hometown boy
Pique waved goodbye to Barcelona's youth academy back in 2004, when Manchester United offered the promising teenager the chance to play in England. Peppered with big-name internationals, Alex Ferguson's squad proved exceedingly difficult to break into for the young Spaniard, who found himself loaned out to Real Zaragoza the following season to get valuable playing time and experience.
A year later, the United coach recalled the central defender, blooding him in the 2007/08 Premier League. Despite increased opportunities and a UEFA Champions League medal that same season, the 22-year-old was missing his native Barcelona and jumped at the chance to return to his old club that summer. And though the Catalans paid handsomely to be reunited with their former pupil, the investment proved worth every penny.
"I'm delighted to be back home with my family and friends as that was something I was missing. On top of that, things could not have gone better for the team this season. We picked up three titles and hope to win several next year again," Pique told FIFA.com.
While all this was happening, a young Sergio Busquets was going from strength to strength in the club's youth teams. The son of Carles Busquets, a professional goalkeeper with the Catalan giants during the 1990s, Sergio moved steadily through the junior ranks, finally making the squad of Barcelona B, then under the tutelage of Josep Guardiola. The coach immediately recognised the defensive midfielder's talent and wasted no time drafting him into the Blaugrana first-team squad after he was handed the senior coaching reins last year.
"This has been the perfect year with my club," said Busquets. "I've played a lot, even more than I'd expected, and at a high level. Most importantly we won all three trophies we competed for. My club performances then paved the way for my national team call-up, which I'm delighted about. Hopefully there will be another title [here in South Africa] as that would round off the year to perfection."
Though a lot has happened in a short time for the duo, both are keen for even more success. "These years have been very intense, and everything has happened so fast," explained Pique. "I'm very happy with how things have gone, but I don't want to analyse it too much. I'd rather just keep progressing as I have been."
So how do they cope with so much success? "By just being myself and having the support of my family, friends and colleagues, all of whom help keep me grounded," said Busquets, who had only good things to say about his team-mate and friend.
"Pique is a top player. He's still very young even though he appears to having been playing in that very demanding central-defensive role for a long time. He has tons of confidence and in my opinion has been the revelation of the year. As an individual, he's a bit of a joker and can be annoying at times, but he's great fun and a very good person.
"Hmmm, so I'm a bit of a pain, am I? Well, that's his opinion and I respect it... but I'll remember that comment and will have to see about that," said the defender with a mischievous grin, perhaps already plotting how best to repay his friend the 'complement'.
Becoming serious again (as much as this incorrigible joker can be), Pique had some genuinely kind words for Busquets before rejoining the rest of the group. "I'm very happy for him," he said. "We've become great friends and being here together is really nice. He deserves it all. It's incredible though, I took one route, he took another, but we both ended up winning the treble with Barça and in the national team."
Now back on the same path, long and successful journeys appear to beckon for the talented duo.